Of the many adjectives that never been employed to describe me - worldly, tall, amphibious, neo-Rihannaian - the only one whose non-use fills me with the regret of one too many marshmallow peeps is “cool.” To the best of my knowledge, I have never explicitly been characterized as cool. I do not blame this on inaccurate personal appraisal or liberal media bias; I’m just not cool. It’s okay. I have other nice characteristics, ranging from “capable at swimming” to “have many fingers,” to which I can hitch my sense of self-worth.
My lack of coolness, however, has rendered a handful of brands and places impenetrable to me. That’s why I can’t be sure that I’m correctly assessing the brand-video bona fides of today’s two subjects, which just happen to be the coolest sneaker brand and the coolest movie house in the coolest major metropolitan area in the country (not literally - that’d be Minneapolis/St. Paul, fellow weatherbugs!). The sneaker brand is Converse. The city is Austin and the cool movie chain screening cool movies is the beloved Alamo Drafthouse.
Heavens, just typing those names fills me with the twin sensations of awe and dread, like that time I saw an open seat at the cool-kid table in the cafeteria and made the snap judgment not to occupy it and then I just transferred to another school because oh what’s the point of it all. To the uncool, coolness is like another language, one deemed too baroque by the Rosetta Stone folks. So please filter everything in this column through a lens of cooler-blindness, especially when I make grandiose statements like this: Converse and the Alamo Drafthouse are as brand-smart as they are iconically supercool.
The Converse video, in support of its reconstructed Chuck Taylor All-Star model, does exactly nothing a sneaker ad is supposed to do. It doesn’t depict sweat-misted jocks levitating for a senses-reorienting dunk. It doesn’t show hip young urbanites executing involved skateboard stunts. Heck, it doesn’t even show the hip young urbanite’s hip young urban buddies reacting loudly to involved skateboard stunts.
Instead, the video focuses on the shoe - like, really focuses on the shoe. We first see it whole. Then, to the soothing strains of what appears to be an amateur-night sound check, it deconstructs. Canvas separates from rubber, revealing the new super-cushiony insole dealie that distinguishes the new Chuck Taylor from its predecessors. Then, after a quick flash on the Chuck Taylor logo and a loving linger around the canvas, the sneaker reunites.
And that’s it. In the clip as in your closet, the shoe is the main event. How far have we strayed from the fundamental premise of marketing that this seems both exceptional and inventive?
The Drafthouse video feels more subversive. In an expert mimicking of the tone and look of “Friday Night Lights” - right down to the quick cut to/from the Texas state flag - “Don’t Talk PSA” empowers beloved Coach Taylor to give another one of his moving, heartfelt speeches about teamwork and seizing the moment and, ultimately, shutting the bleep up when the movie starts. His audience - cool hipsters enamored with their smart phones, naturally - doesn’t hear him. The music stops, Coach delivers a rage-inflected warning straight to the camera and the video ends.
Effective! Granted, it’s not a replicable approach; Kyle Chandler is unlikely to confer his soulfully contained manliness upon theaters that aren’t headquartered in his backyard. At the same time, his participation (and the participation of otheractors who have done shut-your-pie-hole spots for Alamo Drafthouse) brand the mini-chain as unique within its competitive set. It’s true to the brand aesthetic and it entertains at a moment where few moviegoers are conditioned to expect anything other than a stern finger-wagging. That’s pretty darn delightful and - indeed - cool.
Did I say that right? Again: not cool over here.